When most people think of video games, the first thing that comes to mind is either violence, Pokemon, or that it’s just for kids. I challenge people to consider video games a powerful medium for storytelling. After reading this review, look up Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us for two popular examples of engaging, powerful stories in video games.
As much as I’d love to break down Bioshock Infinite, I’d like to talk about another fantastic, story-driven game: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. This fairy-tale influenced indie game follows two brothers – the older one dressed in blue, and the younger one dressed in yellow – and their quest to find the Tree of Life so they can save their ailing father. As the player, you guide both brothers through a European fantasy world filled with enslaved trolls, invisible giants, and griffins that are one part cat and one part owl (yes, it’s an owlcat, and it’s adorable). Those are just a few of the things you’ll encounter here.
One of the most unique aspects of Brothers is that you control both brothers at the same time, one with each joystick. This type of control makes for a unique and at times challenging gameplay experience. Puzzles in the game must be solved by using both brothers at the same time. Yellow is smaller and can squeeze through tight spaces. Blue is bigger and can move heavier objects. Only by working together can the player move on to the next level. Once you grow accustomed to the unique control system, you’ll realize how inventive the mechanic is.
You’ll notice I referred to the brothers as Blue and Yellow. They do have names, but they’re not crucial to the story. No one ever speaks in actual words. Everyone gestures and expresses themselves physically to convey their messages. Combined with a stellar soundtrack to set the mood and stunning visuals, I had no trouble giving myself over to the game and the story it tells.
***Spoilers ahead, because I don’t know how else to share the power of this story***
Even though the game is called Brothers, it becomes readily apparent that Brothers’ true story arc belongs to Yellow. The game opens on him grieving for his mother, who he failed to saved in a boat accident. Visions of his mother still haunt him, and she even appears to him in a dream sequence.
For much of the game, he’s carried and supported by his older brother Blue as early as the first chapter, where Yellow must ride on Blue’s back to leave the village because he can’t swim. That’s just one of many example where we find Blue supporting Yellow in some way.
When the brothers finally reach the Tree of Life, Blue is suffering from grievous injuries. Yellow climbs the tree to collect its water, but when he descends, he finds Blue has died. I’ve played games where main characters died, but never have I been so moved as when I dragged Blue into a hand-dug grave and buried him. The game makes you, the player, initiate these acts, with Yellow sobbing the whole time.
A griffin flies him back to his village with the water from the Tree of Life, and Yellow has to confront his weakness: cross the stream that leads to the village. The same stream where we first learn Yellow can’t swim.
On the shore, confronting his fears, Yellow is comforted by his mother, then he hears the voice of his brother in the sky. Channeling his spirit (I don’t know how else to describe it), Yellow crosses the river to save his father, collapsing from the weight of his grief and the exhaustion of his travels.
The simple premise (two kids go on a quest to save their father) helps to make Yellow’s emotional arc as powerful and moving as it is. That’s where this game wins out over so many other big titles out there. It’s not about how many kills you can rack up. It’s not trying to beat players over the head with symbolism and philosophy. It’s about losing yourself in a fantastic world and investing in these two brothers.
Do yourself a favor and give this game a shot. It takes less than three hours to play, and it only costs $15. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it, whether you like video games or not.
If you’ve played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, let me know what your thoughts are.
I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I haven’t checked it out, I’ll add it to the list!